The Pentagon leadership has identified at least seven overarching themes it will address during the crucial Quadrennial Defense Review, according to several sources in the building. Alongside these themes, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made it clear in his budget proposal that he will use the 2009 QDR to examine the rationale for a number of major weapons programs, particularly the Air Force’s air fleet and Navy shipbuilding.
The strategic review will run through the summer with the intent to have it wrapped in time to inform FY 2011 defense budget decisions. There is some concern in the Pentagon that the short time line might prove inadequate for a “comprehensive” strategic review and could produce a rushed product, according to sources I spoke with. The worry is that the outcome will reflect the thinking and biases of the newly installed Obama team in OSD without adequately accounting for the views of the services. The QDR will be run out of the office of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Michele Flournoy. Flournoy played a similar – though less prominent — role in the Clinton administration so she is familiar with games the services play during a QDR.
This QDR will use the 2008 National Defense Strategy as a point of departure. A big theme in the strategy document, and a point Gates’ emphasizes repeatedly, is the need to achieve “balance” across the military. Gates has clearly decided what the future of conflict will look like and he believes the services are weighted far too heavily towards large scale conventional war and wants to shift their focus towards the lower end of the conflict spectrum. “Last year’s National Defense Strategy concluded that although U.S. predominance in conventional warfare is not unchallenged, it is sustainable for the medium term, given current trends,” Gates said.
He also wants the QDR to capture battlefield lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan and believes those should influence force structure and spending decisions. His call for more aerial drones and his push for big investments in Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles are examples where battlefield lessons have influenced spending choices; we should expect more of these. Gates says fewer costly, leading-edge weapons are needed to insure against the rise of a great power; greater investment is needed to add troops and buy greater quantities of less technologically advanced weapons for hunting terrorists and waging counterinsurgency campaigns.